Why Anambra Towns Need to Create Parks and Cemeteries

Why Anambra Towns Need to Create Parks and Cemeteries

By Azuka Onwuka

Awka, Anambra State

As a boy growing up in Anambra State, we had no need for parks, recreational centres and cemeteries. Every compound was a park or recreational centre, because it was large enough to be used as a football field or a playground. There were churches, especially Anglican and Roman Catholic churches, with primary schools with large sports pitches for football, volleyball, table tennis, races, etc. The gates of these churches were always open – some of them did not even have full fences. People – including amateur football players – used the fields within these church compounds as training ground. Community sports competitions were held in these fields.

In addition, community squares were available for us to play. If the community square and school compound were far, each street could be converted to a makeshift field for football or any other game. Cars were few. Upon the approach of any car or motorcycle or passerby, the game would be paused. We rolled our wheels and tyres on the streets and rode our bicycles on the streets and school fields. We even had wheel-rolling competitions and cycling competitions.

There were streams to swim in. Some of the streams were even wide enough for us to play water handball in. Some Saturdays or holidays, we could play in the stream from morning to evening. To ensure that we were not punished at home for staying too long in the water, there was a plant we were told to tie together near the stream to make our parents forget to punish us. To ensure that our parents did not know that we were swimming all day, there was a liquid from a plant that we were told to drop in our eyes. Sadly these rituals did not help much. For the moment we came in, our parents took a look at us and knew we had been swimming all day. Some form of punishment was usually meted out to us. But it was part of the fun of growing up.

There was a surfeit of trees for climbing. In addition to seeking fruits on the trees, we also played on trees. Sometimes someone would fall. But nobody died or had any serious injury.

These days when I am in my Nnewi hometown in Anambra State, I see the limited choices my children have on the issue of play and recreation. The compounds are smaller; the streets are busier; the church premises are locked or patrolled by security men. There is no large space for them to play without the fear of breaking glass windows or being injured or disturbing the peace. Why can’t my children enjoy what I enjoyed? If children in Europe, North America and Asia, which have far bigger and more modern cities have places to play, why can’t our children?

That is why it is extremely important for the Anambra State Government in association with the communities to start creating parks and recreational centres. In many states across the federation, it is the same story. Urbanisation is coming upon the communities without any provision for parks. The parks that were created decades ago in some cities were converted to other uses, because parks were seen as a waste of space. Only recently, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola, as governor of Lagos State, tried to bring back the Lagos he knew as a youth by creating parks and planting trees.

Except for Onitsha, which was planned by the British and the Government of Eastern Nigeria, Anambra towns and villages were “planned” by the indigenous people. Footpaths, which were in existence since time immemorial, were expanded by communities as roads. As each individual erected his house, he created an access road to that house. No wonder, Anambra roads are narrow and winding. Markets and community squares were created by each community.

One big challenge subsequent governments have faced is to re-plan an already existing community. Do you move the people out, plan the town and bring the people back? That is impossible.  It will create chaos. The best planned cities are those which are planned first, with plots of land allocated to people. But in Anambra, towns grew first and were later planned. That is a more difficult way of planning a city.

Awka Wonderland

If the towns are left to decide whether to create parks, they will not do that, because many people believe that parks are a waste of space. They would rather erect a commercial house there to yield money rather than have a park that will yield no money but consume funds to maintain. Therefore, the state government should work with the local government chairmen to create these parks now that there are still spaces. Each village or hamlet or group of five streets should have a park where people, especially children and the youths, can gather to play or relax whenever they wish to. Parks are an intrinsic part of a modern community. Our ancestors created village squares as well as spaces in front of each compound for play and for ceremonies.

Another missing thing in our towns and villages is cemetery. Recently the leader of the Hausa community in Nnewi was quoted in a Daily Trust interview complaining about that lack of cemetery for the burial of their dead kinsmen. For many years, the Igwe of Nnewi, High Royal Highness Kenneth Orizu (Orizu III), has been stressing the need for cemeteries in Nnewi. Not surprisingly, many people think the issue is not a serious one. But this is because they do not have the foresight to see how the future will be.

Many Nigerian ethnic groups, including the Igbo, believe that for a man to be buried properly, he has to be buried within the premises of his residence. In some Nigerian communities, people are buried within the rooms where they used to live. That way, the person is believed to be “home.” But as compounds become smaller, the reality is that soon it will no longer be healthy and convenient to bury people within their residence. With two or three graves in a compound, there will no space for more. Furthermore, there is a need to ensure that the graves and the soak-away pit are far away from the borehole, so that people don’t drink water mixed with dead bodies and human waste.

In addition, the tradition of the Igbo of bequeathing at least a plot of land to each son is fast ending in many towns. Some people now bequeath apartments or rooms to their sons as the size of land owned by each person becomes smaller. Families now live in multi-level apartments. You cannot fill a compound like this with graves.

Furthermore, there are visitors in every town who do not want the bodies of their loved ones to be taken back to their ancestral homes when they die. These people need a place where they can pay a fee and bury their dead.

Therefore, it is very important that each town or community create spaces for cemeteries now that there is still space for such. The more it is delayed, the more difficult it is to execute.

The way to solve the issue of parks and cemeteries is to get communities to cede a part of their communal land. But most importantly, measures should be taken to ensure that some people do not rise in future to argue that such spaces be converted to shopping malls or offices that will bring in money. A board could be created to manage the parks to ensure that they are not sold in future but are well maintained and protected from the use of miscreants.

When urbanisation happens to communities, certain steps must be taken to ensure that such communities are able to face the challenges of modernity.  That is how to plan for the future. The message here applies to any town or state that is concerned about the future.

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